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Published: March 3rd 2011
Squid Boats at Night
Looks like a city at sea. They cover the horizon from sunset to sunrise.
Quy Nhon beach is a 4-mile long crescent of fine amber-colored sand. The harbor is sheltered by a bowl of green mountains. On their slopes you can see faint dimples that were created by the 2,000 lb bombs dropped by B-52s during the Vietnam War in this strategically important area. The now calm waters are laced with fish nets, traps, squid shacks and round rattan boats piloted by small, sinewy, sun-darkened men. They control their craft with a single wooden paddle held at the front of the pitch-sealed bamboo bowl. By using a series of complex, wrist twists they navigate across the water at will. Fifty-foot square dip nets in the north end of the bay are controlled with a series of rope and levers housed in little pup-tent control rooms that stand on stilts. A beautiful, wide promenade graces the north half of the beach. During hot afternoons you will find Vietnamese taking siesta in hammocks hung from palm trees in cool shady parks or sipping icy drinks purchased from beverage carts parked along the beach. Seafood restaurants stand shoulder to shoulder near the extreme north end of the strand. In the dining rooms sit huge, green, gurgling, glass tanks
View of the south beach curving towards Queen's Beach.
that are clogged with lobsters, crabs and alien looking fish all caught in Quy Nhon’s waters. At the south end of the beach lies a row of modern hotels that cater to Vietnamese business people and those few foreigners who are fortunate enough to stumble upon this Vietnamese gem.
After the van ride from hell Karen and I took a taxi from the bus station to the Hoang Yen Hotel located directly on the beach. (Details at the end of this Blog) We asked to see what rooms they had available. We decided on one on the fifth floor with panoramic views of the bay and surrounding mountains. Large flat-screen cable TV, A/C, queen-sized bed, balcony, hot water bathroom with a real tub, beautiful furnishings and breakfast included for $25 per night. A real keeper. The hotel has a pool which is kind of a rarity in Vietnam’s collection of hotels. I will note however, that in the time that we’ve been here we haven’t seen a single person use the pool. Billiards are very popular in this country and our place has an 8-table hall beneath the restaurant. The modern looking lobby is staffed by kind and attentive
folks. Breakfast is a buffet affair and there’s something offered for every taste. We had originally planned on 5 days here but we have been so taken by the town and its people that we have decided to extend until March 5th for a total of 12 days.
At first blush Quy Nhon appears to be a quiet place. Its broad avenues are free of substantial traffic and the blaring of horns, so prevalent in Saigon, is seldom heard here. The metronome of surf and sea dominates the airwaves. There are two technical schools near our hotel. The students park their heavy, Chinese-made bicycles in a shady lot across the street near the beach. Small sidewalk cafés cater to the kids’ lunchtime needs and ours as well. There is a large shopping center nearby called the Co-Op Market with a well-stocked modern grocery store as well as a wide selection of clothing retailers. Air Supply songs play over the PA providing easy listening distraction while you sort through familiar items with unfamiliar labels. Like our malls back in the States, it’s a popular hangout for local teens who wander around in small, friendly groups. Whenever they see a westerner
Our Room at Hoang Yen
Wonderful hotel on the beach. Superior service and amenities.
it’s an opportunity for them to say hello and practice their school English. The kids are always throwing out a peace sign. I had to mentally rummage around my old Hippie footlocker to find that one again. The shopping center has a number of small eateries selling Vietnamese meals at very low cost. After a recent shopping trip there, Karen and I decided to be adventurous and take a public bus back to our hotel. We found the right spot to be picked up and joined a pack of natives sitting along the curb. An old, finely-wrinkled woman dressed in a white cone-hat and purple peasant pajamas squatted down next to us and immediately began rummaging through our purchases. Her birdlike hands darted rapidly, plucking items from our shopping bags for her perusal. She made unintelligible comments on everything we had bought. We opened a bag of candy and passed it around the group to great approval. Everyone wanted to know where we were from, our names and how old we were. In Vietnam everyone wants to know how old you are. Our every answer rippled into low murmurs through the little posse. A 59-year old man named Cho took
a friendly interest in us and explained which bus we should take and what the fare was. (3,000 Dong apiece, about fifteen cents). He asked me about my time in the military and we talked about the substantial combat that had occurred in Quy Nhon and his participation in it. We didn’t get into details but in the end I was fairly certain that he had been either VC or NVA. Dust in the wind.
Sleepy in the daytime, Quy Nhon explodes into life at night. Kitschy neon flowers and globes line the boulevards. Along Nguyen Hue Street there is a huge dancing fountain that enthralls its audience with multi-colored light displays, whirling sprays and cannon shots of water all choreographed to military music played through huge speakers strategically placed around the crowded park benches. As night falls, a floating city springs up on the horizon as fishermen turn on banks of bright, squid mesmerizing lights which are mounted on their buoyant, outhouse-sized sea shacks. Tiny amusement parks open for business on the promenade. Miniature Ferris wheels whirl, 1/2 scale roller coasters rumble, Munchkin admirals cruise Koi ponds in plastic speed boats while other tykes slalom around pedestrian legs
Karen On The Beach, Right
This was taken at 11 AM and it's like this every day until sunset.
in battery powered ’Barbie’ mobiles. Sidewalk cafés triple in size as additional tables and chairs appear just in the nick of time to seat the press of nighttime patrons seeking a place to eat and chat. Bia Hoi joints are particularly popular. These are cafés that serve pitchers of fresh brewed Pilsner which is drunk from glasses filled with cylinders of crystal-clear ice. The Vietnamese love to toast. They’ll toast to anything and so every swallow is preceded by a calling to attention and the happy clink of glass. A pitcher will set you back 20,000 Dong ($1 US). It’s a light, refreshing brew that goes especially well with the café’s other offerings such as salads made of farm fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber and pungent piles of fresh herbs. These are crowned with small cubes of spicy marinated beef, chicken or pork. If you’re feeling especially brave, like our friend Zuby, ask for a dish of Ot Trai (pronounced Oat Chy). Chopped red chili peppers that will rock your palate and have you reaching for a Kleenex.
At sunrise, reveille sounds from the nearby military barracks, calling all Quy Nhonians to exercise on the beach. Once there, they do
Main Avenue at Night
The town is aglow at night with neon decorations.
calisthenics, acrobatic flips and barefoot jogs along the tide line trace. After their workouts they gather around a wishing well in the small park near our hotel. Lowering their gallon-sized buckets into the shaft, they rinse each other and themselves off with the water they collect. A community shower. As soon as the sun goes from antique gold to glaring platinum they all head off to do whatever it is that Quy Nhonians do during the day. Vietnamese avoid contact with sunlight as assiduously as Transylvanians. Women venture outdoors only reluctantly and always with a newspaper held over their heads to shade their faces. Only fishermen dare wear shorts. Long pants are de rigueur. Pale skin is beautiful skin. The worst faux pas you can commit here is to complement a Vietnamese woman on her ‘tan’. Karen and I are the only sunbathers on the entire beach and the wicker boatmen looked upon us suspiciously when we first sprouted upon their sands. Now, they just classify us as crazy and pay us no heed whatsoever.
Quy Nhon’s beautiful stretch of sand is all but deserted during the hot days but as soon as the sun starts to dip behind
At The Well
After morning exercise on the beach everybody goes to a nearby well for a rinse.
the surrounding hills it comes to vibrant life with happy Vietnamese playing volleyball, swimming in the surf, doing gymnastics, yoga stretches and some dead serious snacking. God, how these people love to snack! An older man in Saigon told me that the people had suffered such privation after the Vietnam War that they now took special joy in the unlimited availability of food. Everywhere you go in Vietnam there are incalculable numbers of restaurants and carts selling everything from full meals to sandwiches to fruit to ice cream and of course; soups to nuts. In the evening, beach vendors set up little plastic tables and chairs right on the sand where people can sit and enjoy the view while nibbling on things such as rice cakes drizzled with chocolate syrup and sip sweet beverages like fresh squeezed sugar cane juice on crushed ice. A four-foot length of sugar cane is pressed over and over again through a metal apparatus that reminds me of the double-roller clothes wringer on my Mom’s old Maytag. The same one that I stuck my arm through when I was six years-old. It takes 8 passes to fill a plastic mug to the brim. Other stands
make deep fried sweet dough which is then rolled in sesame seeds. Some specialize in marinated pieces of pork, skewered on bamboo and grilled on a small hibachi. Others barbecue dried cuttlefish and ears of sweet corn. Pho can be found on pretty much any street corner. The Vietnamese version of fried chicken is an amazing dining experience. You can enter a single city block in Quy Nhon with $2 US in your pocket and emerge at the other end sated and smiling to boot. It is Karen’s and my opinion that the food of Vietnam is the very best in SE Asia. Lighter than Chinese. More complex in flavor than Thailand’s famed offerings.
There are two well known seafood restaurants in Quy Nhon. One is called Dongs and the other is known as 2000. They are just between Nguyen Hue and the beach in a pretty little neighborhood of shade trees and outside eateries. The dining area at 2000 is a cavernous room, ceramic-tiled from floor to ceiling which in the end creates a large echo chamber where a dropped fork can bring table conversation to a screeching halt. Family owned and operated, the Matriarch and her 5
Boatmen move their wicker craft to the water.
girls put on a great tableside show. I had freshwater crab from China that, when it hit the table, looked like a gargantuan hairy tick. Heavy and dense, it was packed with a snow-white meat that was sweet and surprisingly briny. Karen had large grilled prawns which had been rolled in salt and heated to a temperature so high they had to sit on the table for 10 minutes before you could peel them. Total bill came to $16 US.
Dong’s is a smaller operation. Better ambience and a very friendly staff. The owner spoke a bit of English which helped immensely. When Karen and I eat in areas where little English is spoken we use the point and order method. This involves cruising the tables till we see something that looks good and telling the waiter “Same, same.” Laugh or cringe if you like but it works and we get to meet a lot of new folks using this methodology. At Dong’s we had steamed Grouper. All fish in Vietnam is served with herbs and rice paper. Rice paper looks and feels like opaque plastic sheeting when it is served. There is a large bowl of water that
Dip Net Maintenance Man
Control room for the huge dip nets that dominate the north end of the bay.
comes with it. Simply dip the rice paper in the water until it is wet and set it on your plate. While it softens you load it with fish and herbs and then roll it up like a little Asian burrito. This is how fish is eaten in every Vietnamese restaurant we have been to. The Grouper was astounding. So was the bill which came to $23 US total. Fresh fish, especially shellfish, is sold at ‘Market Price’. The waiter will tell you that the price for fish ‘X’ is so much per kilo. (100,000 Dong per Kilo etc.) Make sure that he brings the item to the table before it is cooked and confirm what you will be paying for the fish. Ask how much it weighs. If you still have questions have it weighed in front of you. Don’t be embarrassed as natives do this all of the time. Failure to do so is like taking a Saigon taxi ride without the meter being turned on. You’re going to get whacked. In a perfect world I’d be eating 2000 seafood in Dong’s building.
I went to the rail ticket office to secure passage for our next destination;
Quang Ngai. I had my request for tickets carefully written in Vietnamese on a sheet of notebook paper. While I stood in line, a Vietnamese boy, Noah’s age, who was sitting on a nearby bench tried to read the paper held sideways in my hand. His head twisted until it was parallel with the floor. Just looking at him was giving me a crick. I mercifully handed the instructions to him for closer inspection. Without a word he went to the window and in less than a minute had the tickets secured for me. I thanked him and tried to press a 50,000 Dong note into his palm. A token for his assistance. He refused the bill and took only my hand which he gave a hard shake and he sincerely wished me a good journey. With that he was gone. Later that night Karen and I sat outside our favorite Bia Hoi joint. I sipped a soft drink and listened to a group of pleasant, boisterous Vietnamese sitting at the table next to ours. They asked Karen and I to join them in a toast, which we did, hoisting our glasses high above the table. Each drink touching every
Suzhou Hairy Crab
Had these for dinner at 2000 Seafood. Strange looking crabs with remarkably good flavor.
other. In the distance, I noted those faint hillside dimples and I thought to myself that given another generation we probably wouldn’t be able to see those damned things at all.
Hoang Yen Hotel. 05 An Duong Vuong Street, Quy Nhon City Tel: 84-56-746900
firstname.lastname@example.org We stayed in Room 520 for 500,000 Dong a night. They have other rooms starting as low as 380,000 Dong.
There’s another hotel next door called: Binh Duong Guest House 493 An Duong Vuong Tel: 056 3846267
Binhduonghotel.com.vn Sea view rooms here are 380,000 Dong. Other rooms available starting at 240,000. We stayed in Room 302 for a short time until we were forced to move along by a Vietnamese tour group. My bad as I should have made a reservation. It is popular with tour groups who, at times, will book the entire hotel so don‘t make the same mistake. Fewer amenities than the place we happily ended up in but it’s clean, comfortable and well maintained. They have an excellent restaurant that Karen and I ate in frequently.
Street food and Bia Hoi can be eaten at the intersection of Ngo May and An Duong Vuong
Never has one Grouper given so much to so few.
Streets on the southwest corner across the street from the beach. There are two restaurants there; Com Ha and Quan Ha. Quan Ha is the better of the two though the beer is cheaper at Com Ha. They serve excellent salads and a bunch of other meals that you will not be able to decipher from the menu which is entirely in Vietnamese. Look around at the other tables and point at what you want. Fried chicken feet are very popular here but I wouldn’t recommend them. Way too chewy. Walk south from here along An Duong Vuong and you will find carts selling all sorts of food at very low prices.
A short walk south of our hotel along the beach is the Nha Hung restaurant. Very good Vietnamese food. They have an English menu and stunning views from the outside tables. Lunch for two with drinks will run around 100,000 Dong.
Train tickets can be purchased at the Ve’ Hahn Khach rail office on the west side of the traffic circle at Hong Phong. It’s a huge circle with a statue of a man on a horse standing at its center. While you can buy the
Staff at Dong Restaurant
Dongs Seafood is cozier than 2000 but about 25% pricier.
tickets here you have to go to the Dieu Tri train station 10 Km outside of town to catch the train. There is a train track behind the downtown ticket office but this is for maintenance use only. Try to catch your train here and you’ll be waiting a long time.
Most westerners traveling here use the Lonely Planet guidebook as their Bible. It should be noted that while the book is a great tool to get you started, in many cases its entries are outdated. Prices have changed and many of the recommended restaurants and hotels are no longer in business. Confirm anything that you read in LP with the internet. Tripadvisor.com is a good place to do this. Travel blogs are also useful. Last week Karen and I wasted an hour looking for a restaurant with great reviews in LP only to discover that it has been closed for two years. In case you’re wondering, it was the Australian Bakery. The site is now an electronics store. On food safety. Karen and I take seventy-percent of our meals from food carts and we have NEVER had a health problem as a result. What we have had is
One of the hundreds at anchor in the bay.
an introduction to foods that we would have never known existed and have met, in the eating, some very interesting natives with unique and stimulating points of view. Many tourists tend to cluster around hotels and restaurants owned and operated by other westerners. The place here is called Barbara’s Kiwi Connection. There are always a table or two full of backpackers having a beer or eating a pancake breakfast together. She also offers lodging. I’ve walked past the place a number of times and while I see western people there time after time I never see them anywhere else in town and this is not that big a town. If you’re going to confine your visit to Quy Nhon or any other town in Vietnam to the environs of a western oriented establishment, odds are you’re going to conclude the town is boring and cut short your stay. Don’t sell yourself short. Take a long walk. Get lost. You can always take a taxi home. Head down that shady lane where some guy is reading the paper while he roasts a whole spitted hog in front of his restaurant. Get a haircut at a local barber. It costs a buck.
Wicker Boat with Net
The boats are used to cast nets, maintain trot lines, traps and dip nets. They're controlled by a single man with a paddle at the front of the boat. They're made of wicker coated in pitch. There are no seats. Occupants kneel inside.
Get your nails done in a little neighborhood beauty shop. Places like Quy Nhon love walkers. They reward them with shy smiles and delicious foods and sights you never knew existed. Watch a volleyball or soccer game on the beach and you’ll be invited to join in the fun. But you’ll never see or do any of these things till you get out from behind that stack of flapjacks.
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